US aid held up by Katrina
The country will become the first bordering the Indian Ocean to use tsunami warning buoys after the US gives 24 million baht (US$600,000) to set up the censor system. But delivery of the buoys may be delayed because the factory producing them is located in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
`K' found in coffee packets
Three men were arrested after Singapore's biggest ketamine haul was found hidden in coffee packets carried at Changi Airport by an odd-job laborer. The 3.24kg of the synthetic drug were found by police in hundreds of small sachets inside the five large packets, which had an estimated street value of S$166,500 (US$100,000). Narcotics officers staked out the departure hall and transit area after receiving a tip. A 32-year-old Malaysian, who works as a music deejay, is believed to be a money courier. A third accomplice, a 37-year-old car mechanic, was also arrested. If convicted, the men face prison terms of five to 30 years plus caning.
Child prisoners to be moved
A special task force is being launched to transfer thousands of child offenders out of adult jails and into rehabilitation centers. The social welfare department was also setting up a foster family system for the children. The move follows a CNN report in August that as many as 20,000 Filipino children could be behind bars. President Gloria Arroyo's chief aide Eduardo Ermita said government figures showed there were 3,705 children being held in jail. Offenders below the age of 18 should be turned over to the Social Welfare Department or kept in the custody of their parents. However, a lack of funds has sometimes prevented authorities from immediately attending to all children who were arrested, resulting in their being jailed alongside adult criminals.
Birth rate still plunging
The country's birth rate plunged to an all-time low last year despite a 300 million Singapore dollar (US$175 million) package of policies introduced in 2004 to induce more births, particularly among working couples. Maternity leave was extended to 12 weeks, a five-day work week was introduced, tax breaks and an extension of cash incentives. But the total fertility rate dropped to 1.24 children for each woman, down from 1.25 in 2003, well below the 2.1 replacement rate. Last year's rate worked out to only 35,100 births, far below the 50,000 needed for population replacement in the city-state of 4.2 million people. The rate in Singapore is now among the lowest in the world.
One-child policy to stay
China is in no position to relax its Draconian one-child policy as it struggles to keep its population within 1.37 billion by the end of the decade. Continued tough implementation of the policy is needed even though China is now in the "low-birth-rate" club with 1.8 children per couple, down from 5.8 three decades ago, the Xinhua news agency said. "China's low birth rate is unstable," Zhang Weiqing, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told a conference in east China's Shandong Province. "Many people fail to fully understand that keeping a low birth level is an arduous and long-term task for China," Zhang said. The two-decade-old policy makes it illegal for urban couples to have more than one child but allows rural couples to have a second child if their first is a daughter.